Tuesday, June 07, 2011

How to Start a Book Blog (Part II)

Subtitled: Questions People Ask Carrie About Book Blogging and How She Would Answer Said Questions

Yesterday I answered these questions about book blogging and today I thought I would address some a couple of specific questions I have received relating to publishers and the books I do and have received for review.

We'll just get right to the point today . . .

Question No. 1: How Do You Deal With Publishers and the Books They Offer Review Copies Of?

a.) I receive a lot of promos for various books. A lot. Daily. I may accept one out of every ten books for reviews but I do take the time to respond to each inquiry, regardless of my intent to accept. I think it's just polite to acknowledge the publisher or publicist who is taking time out of their day to approach me about a book. The least I can do is give them an answer.

b.) I do request certain titles but those requests are typically directed towards publishers who I have a long-standing relationship with and I trust their work. (Think: Crossway.) I only request titles that I feel about 95% sure that I will enjoy. I don't want to waste my time or the publishers money in having them send books that I think might be ok but aren't terrifically exciting.

c.) Yes, I do have contacts at publishing houses and no, I do not hand out that contact information. Yes, that may come across as snobby but I have some good reasons for not doing so. First, I worked hard myself to establish the contacts. I hunted down the information for myself and worked hard at developing good, trusted relationships with my contacts. The information was not dropped in my lap and, yes, it did involve work. Any serious book blogger should have to work for themselves, in my opinion. It's not just about the "free books." And here is another reason I say that: when developing relationships with contacts in the publishing industry, I frequently heard about individuals who would request a dozen or more titles at a time. Greed is obvious to the publishers and it makes them more hesitant to work with those of us who are genuinely interested in specific titles because of their apparent worth on the market.

I don't want to promote half-rate books. You don't want to read half-rate books. And when I approach a publisher, I want them to know that I think they have something valuable to offer and that I'm going to present the book in the most thoughtful way possible to my audience.

I also learned the hard way that people were taking my recommendations when I sometimes felt half-hearted about certain books. I've since refused all half-hearted attempts and will either tell you I don't think a book is "all that" or I won't review it at all.

d.) Yes, I still receive some books which I have not requested in the mail. They arrive all the time. (Less so now because I've been e-mailing the publishers asking them to e-mail me about books before they mail them to me.) It took me a long time to learn this lesson, but if a book comes unsolicited I do not feel the need to review it. The way I (now) see it - the publisher took a gamble in mailing me the book in the first place. They didn't know whether or not I would like it. Sometimes I do, sometimes I just really don't. (Most times I don't.) I just e-mail the publisher, thank them for sending it and tell them why I will not be reviewing it. A few times it's just been because I don't have the time to review it. It may be that I already have a stack of review copies sitting here and I know how long it will take for me to get the reviews all up. I'm not going to stick a book into the line-up that was not requested and showed up by surprise. It's not fair to the books that are awaiting my attention that I did request. (Think: Crossway.)

Question No. 2: Do you review books that you do not like?

It really depends. If I do, I now make it very clear that I did not like the book and I try to tell you why as best as I am able.

There are books that I think are poor excuses for books, or express bad or faulty theology (like The Shack for instance...or Love Wins or pretty much anything by Rob Bell) that I think SHOULD be written about because people should be warned of their existence. There are a lot of people more brainy than I who can attack bad theology. If bad theology is attacked by someone, I am happy. Tim Challies, for instance, is my Go-To Guy when it comes to being forewarned about such books. (Randy Alcorn runs a close second.) Sometimes I think Challies says it best and nothing more needs to be said. Other times I think large percentages of the Christian book blogging community should offer up a united front as to why certain books should not be accepted as beneficial reads. (I loved that there was a rising up of theologians across the board when Bell dribbled out his latest excuse of pop-theology. Speaking of bloggers "doing their part" - I really found Semicolon's review of Love Wins to be very interesting.)

Generally, if I intentionally plan on writing up a negative review of a book, I will purchase the book myself or check it out from the library. *I will never specifically request and/or accept a title from a publisher that I know I will not like.

(*I recently made an exception to this rule because I . . . just had to.)

I have been sent pitches for books which I know I have fundamental disagreements with and sometimes I will write the publicist back and tell them that I would rather like to read their book but that I know I will not agree with it so they could expect to see a negative review come out of it. That leaves the publicists with the decision of whether or not to send the book my way.

Most times though I just decline to accept books I know I will dislike. I'm pretty good about guessing as to what I will find pleasing. If I do receive a book I think I will enjoy and it turns out that I do not, I have been known to write to the publisher and tell them that I didn't care for it and I always try to tell them the specific reasons why. Sometimes I have been given the green light to write whatever I want. At other times the publicists tells me "thanks anyway" and I never mention their book around these parts. It all just depends.

There has been one specific instance where I received a pitch for a book which I thought was absolutely horrendous and I wrote the publicist back and told them what poor taste I thought they were displaying by publishing a certain book. I was very specific in stating what offended me about the book's cover art and the author wrote me back to say that my point was taken and understood and that they intended to change the cover art! (Personally I still wish the book had not have been written/published in the first place but if all I could change was the cover art, I'll go with it!) Blogging about books can change things and my deciding to write back my honest thoughts on that particular pitch taught me that.

I would caution tactfulness if you are book blogger who frequently receives pitches for books to review. But I would encourage honesty. You never know what you may be able to change!


And that, my friends, is where I shall conclude this round of Q&A! If you have a question that I failed to answer, feel free to ask it (again?) in the comment section. I will not guarantee an answer but then again - I just may try!


Annette W. said...

How do you create such detailed posts? Do you take notes, bookmark, underline? I have decided on my next NF book, I want to take notes.

Jen E @ mommablogsalot said...

This was so helpful and interesting - great advice and opinions that I think can be applied to all online reviewers.

I would love to get more connections in book reviewing circles but to be honest my reading schedule is a little overwhelmed at the moment between the few reviews I do get, my book club and you know the 8 million books I want to read already anyway.

This tells me that it isn't a good time to expand on more book reviewing - if I don't have time to read it then I'm not really being fair to anyone and having the time to enjoy the books is more important I think. Same goes with all products, I've only just recently figured out that I shouldn't bother requesting a product unless I really think I'll love it / use it.

Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

This, I think, helps me further solidify what type of nook blogger I am--a hobbyist. I do it for my own enjoyment mostly. Thanks for taking the time to write this up!

Carrie said...

Annette W. = ACK! I meant to answer that question in a post since you've asked me that one before! (Sorry about that!)

Here's my answer for that: I give myself 3 (maybe 4, if I'm pushing it) i=clips per book. I clip them to the front cover of the book when I start writing and every time I come across a paragraph or a point I want to remember, I stick an i-clip there. Then when it comes time for me to write up my thoughts, I revisit those particular passages and write from there.

The only times I write down actual notes is when I really, really need to cautiously read through something. For example, I took notes when I read The Shack and Velvet Elvis. It was very time consuming and I ended up with something like 7 notebook pages full of notes (front and back.)

I actually learn best and remember more when I write out what I've just read or heard. The problem is that it just takes me SO MUCH LONGER to get through a book when I do that then I tend to just stick to my three i-clips, to help make sure that I remember at least three things from the book.

Then again, I remember a great deal more of The SHack and my disagreements with it because I took the time to write out so much.

If I only had more time . . .

Aaron Klein said...

Fascinating! A world I knew little about. Great post.

Annette W. said...

Just three iclips?? WHOA!

Barbara H. said...

I signed up with one publishing house to review books for a while -- I love to read, I love to talk about the books I read, and the thought of getting books for free to do that was enticing! But there was no say in what I received and they began sending six at once. That was too much both in terms of numbers and pressure.

Sometimes I get a request from out of nowhere -- author and publisher I've never heard of. I am more wary of those. I like the idea of helping out new authors, but...there's only so much time and I have so many other books stacked up already. What times I have clicked on sample pages of those kinds of offer,s sadly, they've been poorly written.

Stephanie Kay said...

Carrie, I think it is totally OK not to hand out your contact's info to just anybody and everybody. Networking is one thing, tacky is another. Maybe you could write another post telling how you've built relationships with publishers/publicists and your recommendations for others doing the same.

Susanne said...

This was great again Carrie! Love your tips about which books you will take and which you won't.

I think I would be totally overwhelmed if publishers just sent me multiple books to review at one time.

Cindy Swanson said...

Fantastic posts, Carrie! Although I've had my main blog, Notes in the Key of Life since 2003, I've only been seriously book-blogging at Cindy's Book Club since October 2010. I've really struggled to gain readership and get the blog noticed, even though I feel the blog is unique and appealing. Your tips are invaluable!

Ronnica said...

Apparently, I'm still a month behind on your blog...just one of the side effects of vacation!

I love your blog (I think you know I do!) and I appreciate your approach to the books. I've long since learned not to accept the review copies offered to me. I think I've only accepted one this year, and it was because it really stood out to me.

Holly (2 Kids and Tired) said...

Fantastic post. I agree with so much of it and do many of the same things you do. I started book blogging simply to record my opinions of the books I read. I sort of stumbled into the reviewing/receiving ARCs, etc. At first, it was so cool to get free books and accepted nearly every book I was offered. I quickly realized it was also a privilege to receive these books and it wasn't a privilege I wanted to abuse in anyway. I'm much more selective now about what books I accept for review.

I'm like you, if I think I won't like a book, I don't request it. My time is too valuable to read books I don't like. I don't relish writing negative reviews either, although if I do, I try to be fair and balanced without trashing the author. I kind of learned that one the hard way.

Thanks for such a fantastic post!
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